A humanoid robot designed to alleviate the isolation of astronauts by having conversations has been deployed to the International Space Station (ISS).
The world's first talking robot to be sent into space has been dispatched on his mission to the ISS by Japanese space agency JAXA over the weekend. Kirobo, modelled on Astro Boy, is expected to arrive on the station on 9 August, where he will join future ISS commander Kochi Wakata as a friendly robotic companion.
The aim of the 34-centimetre, 1-kilogram robot is to study whether machines can lend emotional support to humans in isolated conditions. Its name, which is derived from the Japanese words for "hope" and "robot", is reflective of this idea. "Hope of the Japanese technology," the website says. "Hope for tomorrow's children. It carries hope on its small shoulders. Hope for the future of humans living together with robots."
Kirobo has been programmed to hold conversations in Japanese, and will chat with Wakata, keeping records of the conversations, as well as relay messages from the control room. Equipped with voice and face recognition, it has also been programmed to recognise Wakata when the two unite in space.
Kirobo's twin on Earth, Mirata, will be able to monitor the little guy remotely, reporting back if there are any problems. Although Kirobo's development team performed extensive testing to ensure that the robot would be compatible with a Zero-G environment, whether he works properly on the ISS won't be seen until he gets there.
Before he launched on the unmanned supply rocket, Kirobo told reporters, "One small step for me, a giant leap for robots." However, while Kirobo has beaten Japanese business group Space Oriented Higashiosaka Leading Association's moon robot to space, there's still an opening for the first humanoid robot on the moon.